EBACE2023 Opening Keynote: Embrace Diversity to Drive Success, Sustainability

Raphaël Domjan, Giovianni Russo, Juergen Wiese, Ed Bolen, Susie Wolff and Toto Wolff.

23 May 2023

The importance of teamwork, open-mindedness – and even disagreement – in driving innovation and sustainability was showcased throughout the Opening Keynote Session at the 2023 European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE2023).

EBAA Chair Juergen Wiese led off the session with a tribute to former EBAA Secretary-General Athar Husain Khan, who passed away earlier this year. “Athar drove our industry in the right direction and carried us through the challenges of the past years with passion, commitment and leadership,” he said. “Athar was most passionate about sustainability, and a better, more sustainable future for air transport.”

Befitting Juergen’s dedication of EBACE2023 to Khan’s life and legacy, sustainability is the dominant theme throughout the session. Giovanni Russo, chief operating officer for Geneva Airport (GVA), termed sustainability “not just our license to grow” as an airport, “but our license to survive.”

GVA has invested in numerous sustainability-focused programs, from photovoltaic panels and electric ground vehicles to powering all infrastructure with renewable energy by 2025. “And I think it’s even more applicable to business aviation,” Russo continued. “You must continue to work on your image as an essential element of the global economy.”

That work also requires embracing innovative ideas and approaches to aviation. Pilot, explorer and entrepreneur Raphaël Domjan shared details of his SolarStratos program’s quest to become the first crewed aircraft to fly to the edge of space on solar power.

“The dream of flying is the most wonderous dream of mankind,” he said. “Some extremist people and ideologies want to say that it will not be possible to fly anymore in the world of tomorrow. We want to demonstrate this is not true; in the world of tomorrow, we will fly without emitting CO2 and without noise. It will be even better than what we do today.”

New Approaches Require New Ideas

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen led a candid and engaging discussion with featured speakers Toto and Susie Wolff, a powerhouse husband-and-wife team in Formula One who have also embraced new ideas and innovation in racing.

After leading the ROKiT Venturi Racing team to its most successful Formula E all-electric racing season in 2022, Susie Wolff now serves and managing partner of the Formula One Academy focused on nurturing female drivers.

“Formula One isn’t segregated, but this is a very clear statement to try and make the industry more diverse,” she said. “We are giving 15 young female drivers the platform to nurture and accelerate their progress, so within eight-10 years we hope to see a female driver on the Formula One division.”

Toto Wolff serves as team principal, CEO and co-owner of Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1, historically one of the most dominant teams in Formula One. In 2022, the team also became the first global sports team to invest in sustainable fuels, one part of its strategy – along with electric and hybrid propulsion – to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Not every season is a successful one, which Toto Wolff emphasized also reaffirms the importance of embracing new perspectives. “You get used to [success]; it’s not even a sense of complacency, but there comes a point where you’ve just done it,” he said. “Eight consecutive [world championships] are not as exciting as the first one.

“But transparency and the brutal truth are part of a learning process,” he continued. “It’s tough love. You must have a culture where you’re able to have solid arguments within your company [as long as you] remind yourself that there may be a lot of pain, but we also have the same objectives.”

Diversity of people, backgrounds and ideas is key to success in any field. “I quite often get asked, ‘Who is your role model?'” Susie Wolff said. “And the reviewer presumes it will be some celebrity or someone very, very recognizable.

“I feel like I’m learning all the time [from] successful people in other industries,” she added. “Learning is a continuous journey … and we’re surrounded by a lot of young dynamic people [who] force you to come out of your comfort zone and [find] new ways of doing things.”